As long as you cannot predict an event, it is considered random. However, is it true? What makes something be really random? The absence of a specific pattern? The inability to predict what the next event will be?
Humans have an almost uncontrollable desire to find patterns in things. Our evolutionary process has guaranteed our brain as a fantastic tool to classify things: from recognizing the face of your mother from the time you are born to knowing who you can trust or not (!?)
Regardless of what we have learned to classify or not, the big point is that we are too bad at dealing with the lack of patterns. In the post "Predicting Rare Events and Financial Crises" we left open the question "how to calculate the probability of the occurrence of 17 heads in a row if this never happened in your sample?
Do you think throwing a die or shuffling a deck are random events? Maybe not. The act of rolling a die is ruled by specific mathematical laws and if we knew precisely the rolling force, the direction of the wind, the friction with the air, initial position of the die, the throwing angle, the point of friction with the surface and all the other variables involved, it would be absolutely possible to predict what the outcome of the launch would be. The same rational can be applied to a deck or trading. So, possibly, randomness does not exist - and not even the free will - since everything is the result of a combination of previous events, and changing any one of them, lead us to have a totally different answer.
Any change in the initial conditions of the die will influence the final result. Stopping to look at a bird can prevent you from being hit by a car a few minutes later or make you to meet the love of your life - the famous butterfly effect. If things are like this on a daily basis, why would they be different in the financial markets?
When looking at a chart of any asset, the first thing that happens is to fall into the temptation to find a pattern in the prices. As our brain is a beautiful classification machine, we can find several of them already in the first 5 minutes looking at the chart ... we still have the ones who say: if you look at the chart and in less than 1 minute you find nothing, it's because there's nothing to be done! In fact, it is very easy to look at an already drawn chart and find a lot of things that "seem to have happened since others have happened," or better saying, the famous patterns of the technical analysis. What is really difficult is to find these same patterns live, in real time, while the chart is forming. Here is where the "men are separated from the boys".
Everything that happened in the past chart was a consequence of past events and events that no one would even know would happen, others already partially expected and all the consequences of the others - remember the butterfly effect described above. Everything that will happen from this second will still be influenced by the speed of response to the events that are happening now, what other people are seeing on the same chart and the consequences of other possible infinite variables. Any change in price now influences the present so much that forecasting what will happen in the future is practically impossible, assuming that we do not know all the variables involved.
This discussion brings us closer to chaos theory, as defined in one sentence: systems considered to be dynamic are extremely sensitive to their initial conditions. A personal example: one of the reasons for the 2008 financial crisis was the near-zero US interest rate cut by the Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, to contain a chain effect caused by the dot-com crisis, the internet business bubble. The crisis of 2008 led the job offers and wages in the US to a huge reduction, a fact that made me choose another place to do my internship. This "new" place was close to a mountain region where I went one day to ski for the first time and I broke my knee! In other words, would I have broken my knee because of the dot-com bubble?
Anyway, does randomness exist or does not? Like everything in life, it depends! By the point of view of the classical physics, no...while by the point of view of the quantum physics, yes. The subatomic universe is completely different from the Newtonian physics. With all this talk of randomness, classification and cause-and-effect relationships, we leave an open question for the next post: Is technical analysis a fallacy?